In Alma Katsu’s historical romance novel The Taker, Adair, the male protagonist, dismisses the "vulgar" sorts of charms he regularly bats off from other women in conversation with a young naïf named Lanore, whom he hopes to make his lover. "Everybody adores the red rose, and yet it is a common sort of beauty," he tells her. "You are like a golden rose, a rare bloom but no less lovely." Soon after, they are in bed together.
If you wear makeup, click through the fashion shows, lurk on Instagram or Pinterest, or are prone to the occasional sleepless-on-Sephora.com 3 a.m. browse, you might have noticed that the undisputed color of 2016 (and beyond) is rose gold.
Actually, you probably own a semi-new item of makeup that is rose gold by any other name — Butter London’s Glazen version in eye gloss form is called "Frosted;" Axiology’s lipstick is a more enigmatic "Devotion." If you don’t own anything spun with golden rose yet, it’s okay — there are plenty of new cosmetic products in that rare-bloom shade coming at you.
The color had its moments in accessories and jewelry starting several years ago, but where it's really popping is in the beauty space, where it’s just now reaching its fullest expression — in highlighters, eyeshadow palettes, nail polish, even hair color. Pantone may as well go ahead and name it the color of 2017 (it named 2016’s color "rose quartz," so it's getting closer).
The allure of rose gold is that it contains light.
The allure of rose gold is that it contains light. It’s a duochrome, which means it looks either more pink or more gold depending on how the light hits it. The look created by rose gold is not exactly the sun-kissed finish that comes from bronzer – rather, it creates a dewy, post-coital flush. Rose gold on skin creates warmth – don’t think beach, though, think sensual - the warmth of skin against skin. Rose gold is not a color that seduces or beckons, like fire-engine red, copper, hot pink.
It doesn't promise. It's the result of a promise. It’s the morning after.
It’s also not blush, which is good, because blush is boring. But here’s the money shot, which most certainly explains the festival of rose gold products flooding the cosmetic market, from high-end to drugstore: It works on nearly all skin tones. Everybody can use some warming up.
Of course, there’s always someone who takes a trend to the next level. In the case of rose gold, that happened at the State Dinner in October 2016.
Did. You. See. Michelle Obama’s. DRESS.
Wearing Atelier Versace in metallic rose gold, Michelle looked so sexy it hurt. Peak Rose Gold was attained that night.
First Lady Michelle Obama wearing a rose gold dress, with her husband President Barack Obama. Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images
The color’s popularity can be traced back to a combination of events: 2016’s Summer of the Highlighter (which is carrying into fall, with plenty of new launches), a Kardashian (duh), and the launch of Urban Decay’s Naked 3 palette.
Released at the end of 2013, the 12-color Naked 3 eyeshadow palette was full of soft, warm, wearable colors in rosy hues. Urban Decay says the palette has remained in the top three highest selling products for 2016. This is certainly due in part to how wearable its colors are. (Just ask the Makeup Addiction subreddit, where it’s invoked near-daily).
The color picked up speed throughout 2016, with highlighters being released left and right. Rose gold works beautifully as a highlighter. Just ask BECCA, who has perfected them — its Rose Gold highlighter comes in liquid, crème, or powder form. But rosy gold also looks good pretty much anywhere else on the face. Or eyes. Or hair.
Oh, and that’s where things started to get really crazy.
The color picked up speed throughout 2016, with highlighters being released left and right.
Last June, Kylie Jenner, the 20-year-old proprietess of Kylie Cosmetics, released a limited-edition "Birthday Collection" featuring metallic rose gold and copper "crème" eyeshadows. They hit the mark: The metallic formula glammed up rose gold but actually (!) stopped just short of vulgar. The cream format was the key — soft, tactile, vaguely sexual.
Jenner then went full-brand by dyeing her hair rose gold last month. Not only was the color strangely pretty, but her commitment was, well, stunning.
Other celebrities who have taken the rose gold dip this year include Emma Roberts, whose colorist Nikki Lee called it "desert rose," and Ashley Tisdale, whose stylist Kristin Ess said the color was inspired by the idea of a "rose filter" Instagram. Jemima Kirke and Elle Fanning have also gone rosy gold in the past few months. (Fanning’s colorist Jenda Alcorn called the shade "pink panther" — it seems everyone has their own name for the hue.) Ashley Olsen and Sienna Miller were doing rose gold hair as early as 2014.
(A browse of #rosegold on Instagram shows plebes attempting the highly specific rose-gold-hair color with mixed results. Other popular images: rose gold iPhones and the Naked 3 palette).
Urban Decay Naked 3 Palette. Photo: Urban Decay.
Rose gold had a rocky road to success, mainly because it took a while for it to find the right format. In 2012, Tiffany introduced rose gold jewelry with a new, lower-priced alloy called Rubedo. It was not well-received for a variety of reasons, as reported by the New York Times, basically because it seemed sort of… basic.
Pinterest is perpetually on fire with rose gold wedding color schemes and engagement-ring bands. Even Olivia Palermo did a recent collaboration with Westward Leaning sunglasses featuring rose-gold tinted lenses.
Earlier this year, Wired reported, in a story called "Why Everyone (And Your Mom) Is Obsessed With Rose Gold," that the color had invaded the consumer electronics world. Remember those rose gold iPhone 6s? "Apple couldn’t make rose gold iPhones fast enough." Then came rose gold Beats headphones, a "pink gold" Galaxy S7, and more.
As an accessory — jewelry or headphones or hair dryers — rose gold’s cultural capital is somewhere between #PSL and Becky With the Good Hair.
It wasn’t until its second act in cosmetics came into bloom that it became clear: Rose gold wasn't so interesting as a color to slap on a product. But it was spectacular as a pigment. It worked across skin tones, and it made everyone glow. Rose gold hit its sweet spot when it hit the skin.
The market has bore this out quite fruitfully. The trend has resulted in some gorgeous product, like Smith & Cult's limited-edition, sold-out "1972" nail polish. The covetability of the nail polish demonstrates part of rose gold’s success: It translates well across all forms of cosmetics, even though it mostly shows up in highlighters and eye color.
Smith & Cult's 1972 polish. Photo: Smith & Cult
One of the most unique rose gold products on the market right now is RMS Beauty’s Master Mixer, a pot of pigment that can be worn alone — use it as you would a highlighter, or popped on top of your makeup in the middle of the lower lip or the center of the eyelid — for added dimension and luminosity.
Last month, RMS launched the Magic Luminizer, a warm, pinkish-gold follow-up to its frosty, dewy hit Living Luminizer.
Birchbox recently did its part to bring rose gold to the masses, sending out Au Natural Cosmetic’s Organic Crème stick highlighter in Rose Gold in a subscription box. And Ipsy sent out not one, but two rose gold items in its November Glam Bag — a a cream eyeshadow by Starlooks in (you guessed it) Rose Gold, and a Rose Gold Small Duofiber Brush by Luxie Beauty (the color is in the tool’s handle).
Consumers’ ravenous desire for palettes being what it is, packages featuring rose gold tones are a hit, from LORAC’s Unzipped palette to the Anastasia Beverly Hills Glow Kits in Ultimate Glow. Even Ulta’s store brand created its own Rose Gold Natural Eyeshadow Palette.
There’s something for everybody, but there’s also so much to choose from that you won’t look like everybody else. That’s the dream and the promise of rose gold: a new, standout color; a shade of pink we haven’t seen before, a product that — for real, this time — will change us for the better.
Rose Gold Beauty to Buy
NEW & NOTABLE
Some great options include Au Natural Cosmetic’s Organic Crème stick highlighter in Rose Gold ($32), Girlactik Face Glow in Lustre ($25), Lancôme Glow Subtil Silky Crème Highlighter in Rose Gold Lights ($30), and Cover FX Enhance Click stick highlighter in Rose Gold ($18). BECCA carries Rose Gold highlighters in powder ($38), crème ($38), and liquid ($41) forms.
Sometimes you can’t choose just one rose gold. For a variety, try these palettes: Anastasia Glow Kit, Ultimate Glow palette ($45), LORAC Unzipped Palette ($42), or Urban Decay Naked 3 eyeshadow palette ($54).
If you don’t want to pick up Kylie’s cream shadows on the secondary market, Josie Maran also offers a metallic with her Coconut Water Eyeshadow in Rio de Rose Gold ($18).
For eyeshadow crayons, try Laura Mercier Eye Caviar Stick Eye Color Rose Gold ($29), and Birchbox’s makeup brand LOC has the One and Done Shadow Stick in Heavy Petal ($10).
Tarte just introduced a limited-edition line of clay eyeliner pots ($21), which has a particularly fetching "rose gold" shade. For the same price, try Ardency Inn Modster Manuka Honey Enriched Pigments in Rose Gold ($21).